Vol. XXIV No. 10 — October 1946

Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723

“The Book of Constitutions, guarded by the Tyler’s Sword,” one of the emblems of the Masters Degree, has puzzled many a brother as to its true meaning. Some have tried to read into it the teaching that Masonry should guard the Constitution of the United States, but this notion will not stand critical examination.

The Constitution of the United States is the document containing the fundamental law of this nation. The “Constitutions” of Freemasonry, whether they be those of Anderson, printed in 1723, or the sixty-odd manuscript Constitutions which are the cherished documents of the Craft, use the word in the plural as signifying the rules, regulations, history, customs, usages and landmarks, rather than as meaning any one documentary compilation of fundamental law.

This famous old book, of which but a few priceless originals remain in existence, is as curious as it is interesting for its mistakes, errors, and inaccuracies, as well as for its very real content of much that is reverenced in and by the Fraternity.

Dr. James Anderson must have been in many ways a remarkable man. A minister, a dissenter, a pamphleteer, a Mason; in his own mind at least, an historian, the image we have of him is but shadowy and there are many gaps in his story. Apparently an indefatigable worker, he seems not to have been too much a man of God occasionally to put expediency ahead of truth, and his inaccuracies, omissions, faulty reporting and scrambled editing are notable.

Whatever character he actually was, however faulty his “history” of Masonry may be, whatever offenses are justly to be charged to him in the realms of self-seeking and opportunism, at least he did publish his "Constitutions” and thus provide the Masonic world of today with a picture, no matter obscure in outlines, of the Masonic world of the first grand lodge period.

His severest critic (the late great Lionel Vibert) insisted that we owe even to his failures a debt of gratitude; he believed that Anderson’s removal of religious sentiments from Masonry’s premier document builded better than he knew in thus helping to make the Craft wholly undenominational — one of the greatest factors in its spread throughout the civilized world.

Anderson was an inaccurate reporter and at times a pretender. In the Dedication — By Desaguliers to the Duke of Montagu — appears this:

I need not tell your Grace what Pains our learned Author has taken in compiling and digefting this Book from the old Records, and how accurately he has compar’d and made everything agreable to History and Chronology so as to render these New Constitutions a just and exact Account of Masonry from the Beginning of the World to your Grace’s Mastership, still preferring all that was truly ancient and authentic in the old ones: For every Brother will be pleas’d with the Performance, that knows it had your Grace’s perusal and Approbation, and that it is now printed for the Use of lodges, after it was approv’d by the Grand Lodge, when your Grace was Grand-Master.

This sounds very grand, important and authentic. As a matter of fact “everything” was NOT made “agreable to History and Chronology” and the “just and exact account of Masonry from the Beginning of the World” is anything but what its complimentary adjectives describe.

This wholly fanciful history of the Craft satisfied the uncritical for many years, but brought the Fraternity into the focus of ridicule of those whose education was sufficient to show its absurdities.

A single example will suffice; Anderson quite soberly claims Cain as the first Mason, upon no better basis than his own statement that “Adam must have had the Liberal Sciences, particularly Geometry written on his heart.” He goes on to assure the reader that Adam must have taught geometry to his sons!

In Anderson’s day Abraham Cowley, poet and essayist of the Restoration, was an extremely well-known and oft-quoted writer. The first words of his Essay on Agriculture are these: “The three first men in the world were a gardner, a ploughman and a grazier; and if any man object that the second of these was a murderer, I desire that he would consider that as soon as he was he quitted our profession and turned builder.” (!)

Anderson could hardly have known of this excoriation or he would not have so readily claimed Cain as a member of the Craft! The book contains the following:

the CONSTITUTIONS of the FREEMASONS, containing the History, Charges, Regulations &c. of that most Ancient and Right Worshipful FRATERNITY. For the Use of the LODGES. LONDON: Printed by William Hunter, for John Senex at the Globe, and John Hooke at the Flower-de-luce over-against St. Dunstan's Church, in Fleet-street. In the Year of Masonry — 5723 Anno Domini 1723.

There is also a pseudo-heraldic vignette. The volume commences with a four-page dedication to the Duke of Montagu by the deputy grand master, J. T. Desaguliers.

Then comes “The CONSTITUTION, History, Laws, Charges, Orders, Regulations, and Usages of the Right Worshipful FRATERNITY of Accepted Free MASONS; collected from their general RECORDS and their faithful TRADITIONS of many Ages.”

Next are “the CHARGES of a FREE-MASON, extracted from The ancient RECORDS of Lodges beyond the Sea, and those of England, Scotland, and Ireland, for the Use of the Lodges in London.

This is followed by the "General Regulations, Compiled first by Mr. George Payne, Anno 1720, when he was Grand-Master”; “The Manner of Constituting a New Lodge, as practis’d by his Grace the Duke of Wharton, the present Right Worshipful Grand Master,” and the approbation of the publication of the book, signed by the grand officers and the masters and wardens of particular lodges. In this list we find against lodge “XVII. James Anderson, A.M., Master, the Author of this Book.” This is the first time that the author’s name is mentioned.

Some Masonic songs conclude the work.

These pages are neither sufficiently numerous nor large enough to discuss all the book at length; of the historical portion little need be said except that it is evidently based on the Cooke Manuscript and that Anderson injected some of his own ideas into what purports to be authentic history. It is Anderson who makes Masons of Noah and his sons (as if Adam and his sons were not enough!) Later (1738) Anderson speaks again of Masons as “true Noachidae” and so impressed many with this statement that as late as 1858 the Irish Constitutions preserved this statement as a fact!

The six Charges of course are NOT “extracted from ancient records of lodges beyond the Sea,” but are adaptations of charges in the old manuscript constitutions and some original matter which is wholly Anderson. Particularly is this true in the first charge “Concerning God and Religion” in which the old invocations to the Trinity and whatever religious practice and precept might have been in the lodges which formed the mother grand lodge, give way to the now famous statement that men are obliged only “in that natural religion in which all men agree.”

As all know, Freemasonry is non-sectarian; the Christian and the Jew, the Muslim and the Buddhist, may kneel side by side at a Masonic altar on which may rest the books of the faiths of all in the lodge. But in 1723 Freemasonry had a distinctly Christian tinge and because our brethren of those years were not ready for too sudden a change, this new idea caused considerable dissension in the Craft. It was here that Anderson builded better than he knew, for the nonsectarian character on which the first of his Old Charges insist was responsible in large measure for attracting many men to the Craft who might well have hesitated, were it an institution devoted to one branch of religion or admitting religious discussion among its members.

However much inventiveness Anderson mixed with what he took from authentic documents to write his six Old Charges, there is little but praise to be given them, and he will be a blind Mason indeed who cannot find the best of modem Masonic precept and practice here set down:

A Mason must be a peaceful subject; he must not rebel against the state. A Mason should belong to a lodge and revere grand lodge and its laws and regulations. All admitted to a lodge must be good and true men, free born, of mature age, no bondmen, women, not immoral or scandalous but of good report. Masters and wardens are to be chosen by merit, not seniority. No Master must take an apprentice without sufficient work for him to do; the apprentice should be a perfect youth without maim or defect; he must be the sort of man who may aspire to the highest office in the Craft. The grand master, who should be of noble birth, may choose his deputy, who should have been Master of a lodge, and all brethren are to obey their superiors. Masons must work honestly in working days. Brethren are to hail each other as Brother or Fellow, and bear themselves courteously to all both within and outside the lodge. The Master must work only for a fair profit and pay honest wages and all shall work faithfully. None must display envy of another’s prosperity, or supplant him in his work. Workmen must receive their wages meekly and not desert the Master until the work is finished. Young craftsmen are to be instructed that they do not spoil materials and none should work with unapproved tools or with other than Masons who are free. Private committees or conversation in lodge is forbidden except by leave of the Master, nor must conduct be other than respectful while serious business is transacted. Brethren must bring their complaints before lodge or grand lodge and never go to law about what concerns Masonry. Innocent mirth at refreshment is encouraged and treating each another according to ability, but all quarrels about religion and politics are forbidden. Masonry adds to a man’s worldly honors but brethren of all stations are to be courteous when met together without encroaching upon each other, but with strangers not Masons, brethren must be cautious while being courteous. A brother is to conserve his health, not stay out too often or too late, and be private as to Masonry’s matter while at home. To a strange brother courtesy and help is to be extended, but only as far as ability permits, except that a needy brother should come before the necessities of one not of the brotherhood. And finally all must cultivate brotherly love and live and act by it, defending a brother’s character and not permitting slander or backbiting or wrangling or quarreling; “saying or doing nothing which may hinder brotherly love and good offices to be renew’d and continu’d, that all may see the benign influence of Masonry as all true Masons have done from the Beginning of the World and will do to the end of Time."

These Charges are still the fundamental law of the Craft; many Books of the Law of many grand lodges reprint them.

The “Thirty-nine Articles” which follow the Old Charges were "Compiled first by Mr. George Payne, Anno 1720, when he was Grand-Master,” and approv’d by the Grand-Lodge on St. John Baptist's Day, Anno 1721.”

They are too long and too numerous wholly to quote here, but they repay careful study, since therein may be found much of old law which is law today; that a grand master may preside in any lodge wherever he may be; that a Master may congregate his lodge at his pleasure; that no lodge may make more than five Masons at one time; that a lodge should have and keep by-laws; that unanimous consent is necessary to make a new brother; that the grand lodge consist of and is formed by the masters and wardens as their representatives in grand lodge; the succession of deputy, senior and junior grand wardens in the case of death of superior officers, etc., closing with; "Every Annual Grand-Lodge has an inherent Power and Authority to make new Regulations or to alter these, for the real Benefit of this ancient Fraternity: Provided always that the old Land-Marks be carefully preserv’d.”

All this is followed by the “Manner of conftituting a New Lodge . . . according to the ancient Usages of Masons”

Next comes the “APPROBATION,” followed by a number of Masonic songs, including the famous “Enter’d ’PRENTICES SONG. By our late BROTHER Mr. Matthew Birkhead, deceas’d, to be sung when all grave Business is over and with the Master’s Leave,” which is still sung in this country. A single verse (the last) must here suffice;

Then join Hand in Hand,
T’each other firm stand,
Let’s be merry, and put a bright Face on:
What Mortal can boast:
So Noble a Toast,
As a Free and an Accepted-MASON?

This quaint, curious, inaccurate, delightful book should be read by every Brother to whom Freemasonry means anything more than a place to go. If its history is largely apocryphal, its law is still sound; if its writer was more guided by fancy than fact in some things, he put the Craft everlastingly in his debt for the fact that we have a book at all, setting forth the usages, customs and atmosphere of Freemasonry during the years immediately following the formation of the mother grand lodge.

The Masonic Service Association of North America